#200 Palestine and Israel: Women and the movement for peace

March 08, 2024 FiLiA Episode 200
#200 Palestine and Israel: Women and the movement for peace
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#200 Palestine and Israel: Women and the movement for peace
Mar 08, 2024 Episode 200

This interview took place on January 25th 2024 and permission was given to share this week.

"We don't want to live in this violence, in this conflict anymore. We want to end it. And as Yael always said, we shouldn't, you know, keep managing the conflict. We should resolve it. And this is why we are raising our voice and we want the international support for this [and we are raising] our voices to stop what is going on."

Women have always been at the forefront of the peace movement. FiLiA reached out to two remarkable grassroots organisations, Women Wage Peace and Women of the Sun, who are operating across Israel and Palestine and advocating for dialogue, understanding, and lasting solutions. Their impactful work has not gone unnoticed; Women of the Sun and Women Wage Peace are nominated to the 2024 Nobel Peace Prize and both organisations were included in the 2024 Time Magazine Women of the Year List.

M.H. from Women of the Sun and Yael Braudo-Bahat from Women Wage Peace discuss their aims, how they work together, and their hopes for the future.

Show Notes Transcript

This interview took place on January 25th 2024 and permission was given to share this week.

"We don't want to live in this violence, in this conflict anymore. We want to end it. And as Yael always said, we shouldn't, you know, keep managing the conflict. We should resolve it. And this is why we are raising our voice and we want the international support for this [and we are raising] our voices to stop what is going on."

Women have always been at the forefront of the peace movement. FiLiA reached out to two remarkable grassroots organisations, Women Wage Peace and Women of the Sun, who are operating across Israel and Palestine and advocating for dialogue, understanding, and lasting solutions. Their impactful work has not gone unnoticed; Women of the Sun and Women Wage Peace are nominated to the 2024 Nobel Peace Prize and both organisations were included in the 2024 Time Magazine Women of the Year List.

M.H. from Women of the Sun and Yael Braudo-Bahat from Women Wage Peace discuss their aims, how they work together, and their hopes for the future.

Lisa-Marie: Welcome. I'm Lisa-Marie and I'm CEO of FiLiA, which is a women's rights charity, and I'm really, really pleased to have you both here with us today. Thank you very much for giving your time. Now, Women Wage Peace, we've come across you before; we've had an education session with you, and we've also done a podcast with you. And Palestinian sisters have been present at our conferences and in our podcasts and blogs as well.
It feels like a timely moment to reconnect and to continue the conversation. So, thank you again. What I'm going to do is invite you to introduce yourselves to our listeners. Could you let our listeners know who you are and what your role is in the sister organisations that you're representing today?
M.H, over to you.

M.H (Women of the Sun): Thank you first for having me. My name is M.H Hamad. I'm proud to be one of the co-founders and employee of Women of the Sun. I'm representing our organisation’s commitment to empower Palestinian women politically and economically and peace building in the West Bank, Gaza, and the Palestinian Diaspora. And my role in the organisation is a programme director and a fundraiser.

Lisa-Marie: Thank you. Yael, over to you.

Yael (Women Wage Peace): I'm Yael Braude-Bahat. I'm one of the two co-directors of Women Wage Peace, an Israeli grassroots movement. Among my roles, I am one of the contact persons with the Women of the Sun, and I'm very happy and proud to be working very closely with M.H. I'm responsible for research development, for foreign relations, and more.

Lisa-Marie: Thank you ever so much. So as you were both growing up, when did you become aware of the conflict between Israel and Palestine? And how did you make sense of that at the time? M.H?

M.H (Women of the Sun): For me, growing up in Palestine, the conflict and occupation was, you know, an inseparable part of daily life for me.
I became aware of the situation at a very young age, witnessing the struggle and challenges faced by our community. It was after having my kids that I realised the need for positive change and to be actively contributing to the peace movement and start to be part of hoping to have a brighter future for us.

Lisa-Marie: Yael.

Yael (Women Wage Peace): So, when growing up, I was aware of the conflict because, you know, from time to time there were periods in which terror attacks happened within Israel, and we were very worried and very frustrated, but I was not a political activist until I met Women Wage Peace. And when the movement was established in 2014, I was following it.
And then in 2016, I decided to become an active member of Women Wage Peace, and since then, I've been very active in the movement. For the past four years, I've been serving as the co-director, one of the two co-directors, but for me, Women Wage Peace was the first opportunity to be a political activist.

Lisa-Marie: So when you became aware of this conflict, how did you make sense of it at the time?

M.H (Women of the Sun): For me, actually, the first one who started with the peace building programme is Reem Hjajara, one of the co-founders of Women of the Sun, and we start chatting and she's my friend. So that's how I got involved in it.
And really, you know, sometimes you will reach a part that you say, okay, I should be part of this or I should change my life or my children's lives. So this is how I get involved. And really, and she's really, you know, someone that really worked on it on a daily basis and day and night she’s thinking about, you know, how to make a brighter future for us and how to move through it.
And you know, meeting Women Wage Peace was like a bliss also for us. They are like our sisters and we believe that we have really a very strong… relationship with them, which is built on respect and the appreciation for each other to be there.
So it can't be without Women Wage Peace and it can't be, for me, without Women of the Sun, because we believe that this language that we create, which is the Mothers’ Call, is something really unique and wonderful during this situation that we are living in.

Lisa-Marie: Thanks very much.

Yael (Women Wage Peace): For me, you asked, how did I make sense of it. I didn't. And the thing is that in Israel, until October 7th, most Israelis were not experiencing the conflict on a daily basis as the Palestinians do, as M.H described. You could go on ‒ again until October 7th ‒ you could go on living your regular life, raising your children, developing your career, going to the university, beginning to work, and just living.
Because, from time to time, as I said before, there were periods of terror attacks or missiles, and Israel was attacking Gaza, and Gaza was… and Hamas was attacking Israel, but all in all, you could just live your life. And for me, until 10 years ago, I really, I would have covered my head and didn't look around and didn't read the news and was just busy finishing my PhD and raising my children.
And that's it. Because I knew that if I raised my head up, I would be very, very despaired because if I see what's happening, if I acknowledge what's happening, I wouldn't be able to cope with it, because it's really… I mean it's awful and it's so long now.
And so I just kept my head down and the moment that I realised and felt that I can lift my head up is the moment when peace was established. Because then I could look up and see the hope. And again, for two years, I was a silent follower and supporter, and then I became active.

Lisa-Marie: Anything else to add at this stage? Okay, let's move on then. So, you're both here representing organisations with a focus on women. So let's start with Women of the Sun. M.H, your organisation involves the West Bank, Gaza, and the Palestinian diaspora. Tell us about the founding of Women of the Sun, which is very recent actually, in 2021. Why was it created and what are its aims?

M.H (Women of the Sun): First of all, Women of the Sun is an independent Palestinian association with a vision of fostering empowered women actively engaged in political, economic and decision-making forums. And peace building, our mission is to build bridges of awareness across, you know, generations, transforming societal norms and to empower women fully in political and economic spheres. We believe that we are new as organisation, but I think that we made a big change during these two years. And we are very happy with what we have achieved during the last two years to raise our voices, as Palestinian women and to work on both sides ‒ Palestinian to Palestinian programmes and Palestinian to Israel programmes ‒ which serve our community and we respect it with their thoughts, with their beliefs. And on the other hand, we work to re-change our community and to push them in the peace path.

Lisa-Marie: Yael, you were nodding then, when M.H said about having created a big change in the last couple of years, you started to nod quite vigorously.
Yael (Women Wage Peace): Yes, because it's really amazing for any social movement, and even more than that, a peace movement and women's movement, the Palestinian women's movement… it's really amazing. You know, the establishment itself was very courageous and the ability of Women of the Sun to recruit, for example, almost 3000 members in such a short time really in such a harsh atmosphere, it's really amazing.
I mean, Women Wage Peace when it began, also there wasn't this momentum after the Protective Edge operation. But I mean, compared to the size of the population, it's really something amazing. Again, finding the other word.
Lisa-Marie:  Women Wage Peace began in 2014 and is now the largest grassroots peace movement in Israel.
So Yael, take us back to the beginning and the reason for creating Women Wage Peace. I don't think you were there right at the beginning, were you? But if you can tell us the story of the organisation.

Yael (Women Wage Peace): No, I wasn't there at the beginning. As I said, I was following it. I knew when it was started because one of the co-founders is my neighbour, my good friend. And we've been working… since I joined the movement, we've been working very close together. Her name is also Yael. And so I learned about it from her. But I will tell a little bit about how the movement began and was established.
In the summer of 2014, it was the Protective Edge operation. Until October 7th and the current war, Protective Edge operation was, I would say, the most major war or major operation between Israel and Gaza. You can find… there were periods in the operations all over for 20 years now, most of them quite small, sometimes they're bigger, and there was one round after another, after another, after another, and you know, there was a round of missiles. And then Israel hits back. And then there's some negotiations to quiet things and some men in suitcases with money and everything is quiet for the next few weeks or months or so.
And in 2014 the operation grew and became… we call it a war. And a group of a couple of dozens of courageous women decided that enough is enough. You cannot go on living from one round to another to another. There've been so many rounds. The summer of 2014, it was a hard summer.
Some of the founders had children, sons and daughters fighting in Gaza during the war. And they said, enough, we cannot go on. We need to do something else. Now, in Israel, there are peace organisations and peace movements for decades now. Since its beginning and since 1967 and more and 1984 and really, you can find many, many organisations in Israel.
So the women who decided to found the movement wanted to do something different, something unique. So first of all, this is a women-led movement. And again, we have women's movements for peace in Israel, but they're quite small. And they're not, you know, grassroots massive movements. So we're a women-led movement because we know that there are not enough women in the peace process and the peace building process.
And women need to be involved because then the process is better. It's more inclusive. The agreement is reached faster and is more sustainable. And we are a diverse movement, meaning that we have women… we're not affiliated with any side of the Israeli political map or any party. And we have women from the right, left, and the centre.
Every woman and also every man who wants peace can find a home in Women Wage Peace. So these are the two quite unique features of Women Wage Peace. This is how it began. And as I said, two years later, I decided to join.
Lisa-Marie: Thank you very much. And ‘courageous women’, you use that phrase.
Absolutely. And it is often courageous women at the forefront of the peace movements. So how did you both become aware of each other's organisations and make the decision to work together?

M.H (Women of the Sun): For us as Women of the Sun, Reem was responsible to put us in contact with Women Wage Peace. She had different meetings with members of Women Wage Peace and they start, you know, thinking about having something that brings Palestinian and Israeli women together. Which I believe that it's a need for us, you know, to have women from both sides, because you need to raise the different thoughts of us and to share our lives, how we live, to show it to the Israeli women. And the same for them.
And it's a part that to show the women for us that there are other faces of the Israeli people that you meet on a daily basis. There are faces other than soldiers, than the things that we face on a daily basis. So it's good to have one that we can share our thoughts, we can express ourselves, or maybe sometimes our anger, our disappointment of what is going on. So it's good to have women from the other side. And when they started working, I wasn't there yet. I was working on registration of the organisation, but I didn't get involved in the meetings and everything.
So Reem was involved and they start thinking about putting out the Mothers’ Call and to write it and to start to advertise or work more on it. And there is awareness. And for me, when I start working, I started in 2021, but I think in the September I start working in the office and it was there where I met Yael Admi and Yael and all the group of Women Wage Peace.

Yael (Women Wage Peace): So from my perspective, about four and a half or five years ago we decided in Women Wage Peace to see if we can establish a more continuous, more systematic work relations with Palestinian peace activists. We've been working with Palestinian peace activists in the initiation of the movement and we had the thousands of Palestinian women joining some of our events in 2016, 2017.
But we wanted to be in partnership, not just to organise the march and invite our sisters, but really to plan things together, to work together. So we began, as M.H mentioned, by sitting together a couple of dozens of Israeli and Palestinian women in Beit Jala. It was in 2019, sitting together and trying to draft a joint vision.
Because we said that if we cannot draft something of us women, the mothers, then we cannot expect our leaders to sit down and negotiate. But it took us nine months in which we discussed each and every word because… we didn't really argue, but we had to understand very deeply the meaning of each word. Because, for example, the word security or the word education, or the word welfare, or equality, you know, it has different meanings for different societies.
So I remember that the translator who was translating from Arabic to Hebrew and from Hebrew to Arabic sometimes stopped the conversation and she said, ‘Wait a second, I need now to tell the Israelis the exact meaning of the word security. So wait a second.’ And we really discussed each and every word and we managed to come up with this document, which later became our Mothers’ Call. And we said, okay, we succeeded, and it took us nine months. We gave birth to the Mothers’ Call, now we want to start planning actions together.
But then COVID hit, so we had to take a break. We couldn't meet for many months, and in the summer of 2021, we decided to go back and see if we can begin from the same point that we stopped two years ago, and we began planning a joint event. And in one of the meetings that we were having in Beit Jala, the women, Reem and other women who were with us, told us we decided to establish a movement.
And we were so thrilled because, you know, when we began working, we said, okay, so if we have a group of women with whom we can work it'll be wonderful. We really didn't dream about a sister movement, which was really so exciting for us. And just to complete this story, a few days later I was at home, I was going to buy some groceries in the local shop. And all of a sudden I get the notification from the WhatsApp group of us, of the Israeli and Palestinian women, with the logo for Women of the Sun with the bird, with this beautiful bird. And I just began crying in the middle of the store because I was so excited to see it. It was like a dream that we haven't dreamt coming true for us. And we've been working very closely since then. Yes.
Lisa-Marie: And there's something special about it taking nine months, as you say, to give birth to this sisterhood. So thank you for that. So the vision and mission of your organisations, and what strikes me is that both of your organisations demand two things, ultimately: a negotiated peace and with women at that negotiating table. But you make no claims as to what shape that peace should take.
M.H, tell us more about those aims and the actions and activities of your organisation. And you spoke with me before about our right to live in a peaceful world. And I understand that part of your work includes training in peace building.

M.H (Women of the Sun): For us, we envision a future generation like sowing seeds of change, altering societal fabric for acknowledgement and respect women's existence. Our commitment is to empower women for full participation in politics and the economic. To ensure that acknowledgement and value, we strive for a profound shift, where women's contributions are recognised and celebrated in a just and equitable society.
The mission of Women of the Sun is to empower women to become influential leaders in politics, economics, and the decision-making arena. And we break down barriers, challenge social norms and provide comprehensive programmes to equip women with the skills, knowledge and confidence for active engagement in politics and the economic sphere.
In this mission, we started conducting different workshops. In the last year we have leadership workshops. We have trauma healing workshops. We have also economic independence training for women to have vocational training in doing stuff and to still have to sell it like candles, like shops, like embroidery, Palestinian embroidery that improves them at home. Because we believe if the Palestinian woman is economically independent, she can raise her voice, not even in the community, but in her family.
So we start from the basics. From the family to also to affect her children, especially the girls to raise their voices to start working on her identity to improve herself in her community. We have also joint programmes with the Women Wage Peace, which is training for around 50 women, Palestinian women and Israeli women.
We have bi-national and uni-national meetings and the conference at the end of it. Finally, we get benefit of about 200 women from both sides that met. And it was really a great programme because it was the first programme we did as a peace building programme in our organisation.
And the number of women that raised from when we first started the programme and when we ended, it was really good. And this makes us happy that we really are making changes and more women are coming and getting involved in the peace building programmes.
On the other hand, for the next year, we are working on empowering the Palestinian women because we believe if you want to sit at the negotiation table, you need to empower and to educate the person. You can’t just bring a Palestinian woman and put her in a joint programme and tell her, okay. No! We need to work on them to be educated more, not just to bring anyone.
No, we want to have more leaders in the Palestinian community, more women especially, to raise their voices, not to be in a role and she does nothing. No, we want to raise her voice, if she has a role in the community or even in the government. She really works in that role and raises her voice very well and represent the Palestinian women.
We have programmes like a leadership programme for this year, trauma healing, and we are also continuing with the emergency aid for Gaza and the West Bank members of Women of the Sun. We have also established a new centre which is related with the Women of the Sun, which gives eco-cultural training for women.
So we are working on water consumption, on environmental issues that are related to women and to educate and raise awareness. That’s mainly what we worked on. Also we have a programme which is women building bridges with the Woman Wage Peace that is funded from the USA. It's for one and a half years, and we will hopefully have the first programmes ‒ we have two parts of the programme; we have a tours and the educational and peace building meetings. So it will be like uni-national and bi-national meetings. And we have tours for two parts of women, Palestinian and Israeli women.

Lisa-Marie: Thank you. Is there anything that you'd like to add? Do you want to tell our audience about the Mothers’ Call, which is still, I think, open for signatures.
Yael (Women Wage Peace): Absolutely, all the time. Just to say some more about the need to involve women in peace building and the peace process. When Women Wage Peace was founded, it was founded on the basis of Resolution 1325 of the UN Security Council from the year 2000, which acknowledges both the unique ways that women and girls are being impacted by conflicts and wars and also the need to involve women around the negotiation table.
Because when women are involved, as I said before, and this is based on their research of many conflicts that were resolved in the past, when women are involved, the agreements are better. And they also include issues like health, like community, like welfare and education. And not just where the border will be located. And therefore, they are also more sustainable over time.
So for us it's not only important, it's really necessary, it's crucial that women are involved in peace building and then later in peace negotiations. So we in Women Wage Peace since the beginning, we operate also in this regard, raising the awareness of the importance and significance of women involved in peace building.
And this is also what lies at the basis of the programmes and the trainings that M.H described. So for us, it's really important just to say one or two sentences about us not suggesting any particular solution. When Women Wage Peace was established, again, as being a diverse, non-partisan and pragmatic movement, the founders decided not to endorse any specific solution because there are many solutions on the table now.
Many organisations and initiatives have developed plans and proposals for solutions. And we say, okay, there are enough solutions on the table. Sit down now, sit down and talk and whatever solution you will reach, which is based on mutual acceptance, honourable, non-violent, and really accepted by both sides and the product negotiations, Women Wage Peace will endorse and support it, no matter what the content is. And again, it needs to be nonviolent, respectful, and mutually accepted. So this is, again, another unique feature of Women Wage Peace in the Israeli Peace Camp.

Lisa-Marie: Thank you. And do you want to talk a bit about the Mothers’ Call?

Yael (Women Wage Peace): Yeah. So the Mothers’ Call is our joint vision. It's the founding document of our partnership. And again, it doesn't say a specific solution. It doesn't say exactly what needs to be written in the agreement. But what it says is that we demand our leaders from both sides to sit down and begin negotiations as soon as possible, because the conflict is long enough. It was long enough and needs to end.
We know that conflicts all over the world were resolved when courageous leaders, and I say that again, courageous ‒ it’s not only the women that need to be courageous, but also the leaders when they sit down and talk. And also, by the way, when women from both sides of the conflict unite and push the society, the public, the decision makers then peace comes to be reality.
Like what happened in Northern Ireland, like what happened in Liberia, in Columbia, and this is what the Mothers’ Call is all about. We are mothers, not necessarily the biological sense, but in the political sense. We care for our societies. We care for our peoples. We want to raise our children and the next generation in peace and security. It's as simple as that because, you know, raising children in conflict, in this ongoing conflict with no end, with no horizon, it's just unbearable. It's our reality in this region. But it's unbearable. And we say we deserve peace and security. We deserve it. It's our right.
And this is what we say in the Mothers’ Call. Every Palestinian and Israeli, women, men, children, we all deserve this. And our leaders need to do it. And the world needs to support it. And the world needs to facilitate and help begin negotiations. So we call on all the women in the world, all the leaders in the world to support us, to support our call. This is the Mothers’ Call.

Lisa-Marie: Very powerful words, thank you. And I think therein lies the strength of your organisations, which is a simple, in some ways, demand for peace and for women to be seated at the negotiating table. I imagine there is some criticism of that approach. What form does that criticism take and what has your response been?

M.H (Women of the Sun): For us, the changes are immense and it's heartening to see the impact of the conflict on our community, especially with the normalisation and all the judgments we get. But the resilience and the determination of the people that are involved in Women of the Sun peace movement are inspiring.
And we've made large strides in fostering dialogue and understanding, even in the face of adversity that we are having in our community. And our response is to continue fostering connection and to break down those stereotypes and also to promote a shared vision of connection between us and between the Israeli people.
And this is our response. Because we should step and start changing what we are facing. And if you start separated, like I said, you usually ‒ like the apartheid wall ‒ the gap will be more and more between these two communities, and this should change now.
Yael (Women Wage Peace): The objections on the Israeli side stem mostly from disbelief or indifference. So, there are the ones who don't want peace, who just want to, you know, to wipe out… I wouldn't say it even out loud because they're not our audiences. And they're really the minority. Most Israelis, and then I will say until October 7th, it changes and I will say a few words about it.
And until October 7th, most objections that we encounter they come from indifference they’re saying, okay, you can resolve the conflict. It's okay. But it's not that urgent; we can manage it. The paradigm of, you know, managing the conflict was prevailing in Israel for 20 years now.
We don't need to resolve the conflict. We can manage it. And we saw how it is managed, as I said before, every few months there is a round, there is money, and there is quiet. And this is how the conflict was managed. And for many years, Women Wage Peace said, you know, you can't go on managing the conflict because it will blow up in our faces.
And this is unfortunately what happened on October 7th. So now, now, after October 7th, no one can be indifferent to the conflict. But before October 7th, many people didn't believe it was possible. They said, okay, of course, I want peace. Everyone wants peace, but there is no partner on the other side. It's not possible, it's not viable, and so forth.
And one of the things that we put effort in was trying to show the Israeli public that there are partners on the other side. For example, for I think it was for four months before October 7th, Reem came to Israel seven times to talk to Israeli audiences and show them there are partners on the other side.
I'm here as one, but I have so many behind me, with me, that want peace, that they are willing to be active for peace. And we began doing it. Now, after October 7th, the belief that peace is possible is even weaker, unfortunately. And we will have so much work to do in Israel to convince the Israeli public or rebuild the trust and convince them that there are enough partners on the other side, with whom we can wage peace and then we can push the leaders to begin it, but it's very difficult.
It's going to be very challenging. I mean, it wasn't easy before, but it's going to be even more challenging now.

Lisa-Marie: Thank you very much. I want to move now to working across difference. And both your organisations have women of all faiths and none and seek to work across that difference. How important was it from the outset to make it clear that women of, as you put it, all sects and segments of society were welcome? And the idea being that if you're a woman who is for peace, you can participate.

Yael (Women Wage Peace): I'm not sure I understand. I mean, you talk about the diversity and then the need to reach out to as many and… okay. So again, on the Israeli side, from the Israeli perspective, for me, I think ever since I remember, peace was considered something of the left side of the Israeli political map and security of the right side.
And when Women Wage Peace was established, one of the goals was to tackle this paradigm and make a shift and show that everyone wants peace. Even the people on the right side of the Israeli political map, everyone wants peace. And we need to reach out to everyone who wants peace.
And we have women who were not involved in peace building before and now they are. For women like me, you know, middle class in the centre of Israel, it's quite easy and quite natural to be a peace activist, a political activist. For many women in Israel, it was not, or it's still not.
And this is another thing that we're doing, Women Wage Peace, we're reaching out to women who don't consider themselves necessarily as peace activists or political activists to show and see that we can connect through those values of, you know, striving for a peaceful future for our children here and the next generations.
And another very important part of us being a diverse movement is the involvement of the leadership of Israeli Arab women. So we have in Women Wage Peace, many Israeli Arabs. Not enough, I must admit we do always try to find ways to elevate and raise the voices of our women in Women Wage Peace.
First of all, because… not first of all, but in the beginning, first of all, it was because we know that, again, we need the women from all across Israeli society, from all walks of life with us. Because our theory of change says that if enough women from enough populations or groups in the Israeli society support peace, then the leaders will engage in it.
So this is one point, and of course we also fight for equality of the Arab population in Israel, specifically Arab women. And just to say in the past few years, we also realised how significant, how crucial, the role of Israeli Arab women in as being the bridge with our Palestinian sisters, because they don't only know both languages, but they also know both cultures and their hearts are literally on both sides. So they are a bridge to peace. Some of them serve as the main contact persons with Women of the Sun.
And there are many occasions, now less, but definitely at the beginning, you know, when I said something and it was heard by my Palestinian sisters in a different way, just because we have cultural differences. And things that I say and mean sound differently on the other side and vice versa.
And the Arab Israeli women, I mean, they explained it to me. I mean, I remember one occasion when Reem told me, you know she was confident enough where close enough that she could tell me. But until then, the Arab Israelis also told us, you know, pay attention, you said this word, but it means something like this.
So really they are a true bridge to peace and we couldn't have done and couldn't have developed and deepened this partnership with Women of the Sun without the Arab Israeli women. And they have such a significant role in this.

Lisa-Marie: Thank you. I think that's what I was getting at is how do you navigate what must be at times considerable difference of background, faith and firm ideas of what the solution should be to the conflict.
So do you have processes in place to navigate those differences? How do you talk across such difference? How do you work together across such difference?

M.H (Women of the Sun): About finding like common ground and understand that peaceful future benefits everyone. So this is what we try to focus on and this and the empathy.
I think that it's something that is very important in our meetings and to be open minded and to have respect. So I don't really need to agree with everything she says, but I should respect her on what she's saying. And I should be open minded to understand that we are from different cultures and different backgrounds.
But our goal as women, I think, is to have a brighter future for all our new generations and to make the change. We know that, especially in the Palestinian community, working in peace… it's not something that is really appreciable or, you know, they will not clap for you for working for peace.
This is something that we should understand, you know, but on the other hand, we shouldn't be ashamed to work with Israeli people because we are doing the job that you are not doing, you know, as governments, as leaders in our community. So they should be ashamed, not us, because we are working to try to solve and to push you to sit at this negotiation table, and this is your job to do it.
For example, it's not for us, you know, having like a government has responsibilities to save the Palestinian people and to put everything on the ground and to raise really a good generation that really can live. And for normalisation what I say, for example, my husband's works in Israel.
So sometimes when he says, okay, you are doing normalisation as a job, I told him, okay, I don't get paid from Israeli people. You are getting paid. So who's doing normalisation here? And this is things that we think that, okay. They like normalisation. They put it in different segments. So they judge you when they want.
On the other hand, they don't look on their side. For example, some Palestinian people went to Israeli hospitals. So, this is not normalisation. So we should wake up on this thing that they are throwing us through and the people who really creates normalisation and create things that each community should be separate from the other is the people who are working on this conflict. He's really the one that is making this conflict harder and harder for us. Because I think both of us want just to live. We want to live in a peaceful world. We just don't want to wake up every day and hear bad news and you know have conflict because, for example, Gaza isn't that far from us.
And on the other hand, they want us to live normally, as though there's no war; there's nothing happening; there are no people in prison; there's nothing happening; we are living in a wonderful world. And this is not what is going on in reality. Because we are facing really a war near to us. And, you know, for example, my daughter, she's 18 years old, she's in high school and she's really very sad thinking about the same girls from her generation that can't attend school these days.
So it's something really very bad and what really pushes us to work in this path is really, we should change it. Yes, the war didn't end yet. It will end, but we don't want another war. We don't want to live in this violence, in this conflict anymore. We want to end it. And as Yael always said, we shouldn't, you know, keep managing the conflict. We should resolve it. And this is why we are raising our voice and we want the international support for this. Like, raise our voices to stop what is going on.

Yael (Women Wage Peace): Just a few things about our communication between both movements. I think that one of the reasons that it works very well is that we're separate movements, independent movements, and this was a decision, a very thoughtful decision that we made when Women of the Sun was established. Not as a chapter or a bi-national organisation, but really separate independent movements, which enables each movement to, to convey the messages to its audiences separately.
We do many things together, very many initiatives. We have the messages, joint messages, like our Mothers’ Call. But we also have the specific messages of the Israeli movement to the Israeli population and of the Palestinian movement to the Palestinian population, and it enables us to have the freedom that we need to make this partnership work. You know, like in every good marriage, you have the individuals, and you have the partnership.
And this also, I think, is what helped us now during those days, and we'll talk about it a little bit later. Just to say we established this routine of work where we, for example, Women Wage Peace, we draft something, we draft a text. We translate it to Arabic with Heyam, she's one of the main contact people with Reem.
And then we send it to Reem and M.H. And they try with comments and they say, please notice this is a shaming, blaming language. We don't use it as partners in each movement, and this can be understood like this on the Palestinian side, and vice versa. And we've established this routine that just works, and now it's very… in the beginning, you know, it took us a few days to draft something together, or a message or text or something, today can take hours to do it together.
And another thing is that we share and we don't disregard the pains and the fears and the despair of each other. Absolutely now, but even before, and because we don't disregard it because we share it, we cry together, we care for each other. Then we can also we can also manage to work together even on difficult issues and in difficult times.

Lisa-Marie: Thank you. And that leads us on to the current situation and you are one of the few partner organisations, I understand, that have continued to collaborate even when faced with the escalating tensions. And I'm hearing about groups that have worked together for decades who are unable at the present time to continue to do so. How important and how difficult is it to maintain that relationship at the moment?

M.H (Women of the Sun): I think, you know, despite escalating tensions, maintaining collaboration is a vehicle for us. So it is challenging, but our dedication to the cause and the belief of the transformative power of women voices keep us working together, even in difficult times.
And what I say is, like Yael said, that we are really different separate organisation and we can work on both sides, on our community and on the peace building programmes. So this is one of our strengths that really for me as a Palestinian woman, I can express myself very well in my community, and Yael also, but when we come to share our thoughts, we really think about our partners.
I will think, okay, what will Yael say about that? And Yael, I believe that she thinks the same. And this is a language that we work on, that we have our own language. For this path, because, you know, being from different backgrounds, it's hard sometimes to put things in the logic, because sometimes maybe I will think about something differently than Yael, but on the other hand, we have a cause, and we have something to work in, and this is the most important.
So, I believe that this is… there are many peace building organisations, but, you know, if you don't have this language, or if you feel like the Israeli people, they are responsible for everything, I should work according to that. No, this is wrong.
Palestine and Israel, they are two different, not only communities, but organisations. And when you need to work, you need to find your part in it. For example, when we are having meetings with the funders and everything… For example, for our project, I'm the sub-recipient, but I work with Yael on every document and everything.
And each meeting I was there, and I believe many of the others don't show in those cases already. And this is really wrong. So you should find your spot in your relationship with the partners. And this is what we have. So for example, Yael doesn't speak instead of me, and I will be happy if she speaks because, I believe that she expressed me very well.
And for me too, because I have my own thoughts, she has her own thoughts, and we can express ourselves without the need to rely on it in one part, not the another. I express myself well.

Yael (Women Wage Peace): Absolutely. And I really just want to add, so indeed, first of all, our connection continued continuously.
There was not even a moment where we said, hold on, we need to take a break, it was not on the table. It didn't even occur to us to do so. And you know, on October 7th, the same day where Hamas attacked Israel, we received the messages from Reem and M.H saying that, we think about you, we worry about you. We are the hope and we're going to continue together because peace is the only answer.
They were very worried about Vivian Silver. She was presumed missing at the beginning, presumed kidnapped. Her remains were found in her home in Kibbutz Be'eri, and M.H and Reem and the Women of the Sun as a whole, they were so worried about her and then grieving about her.
And now for us, you know, it was just so natural because, of course, we continue together. Of course, I mean, our mission became even more urgent, more crucial now because of what happened. And it took us, I think, about a week or two to understand that not everyone is like us.
I mean, everyone, as you said at the beginning, in many organisations stopped their bi-national meetings, and bi-national organisations were not able to work together. I'm glad now to learn that as time proceeds things are getting better in other organisations as well. But for us you know, of course we continue together and it took us two weeks to understand that we needed to share it with the world, because the world thinks that that everyone now is disconnected.
So and just really an anecdote but it's not an anecdote, it's an example, and M.H began telling about it. We have now our joint project with USAID [United States Agency for International Development]. So officially Women Wage Peace is the only grantee, the prime grantee and the Women of the Sun is the sub awardee.
So all the contract and the negotiations, officially, was supposed to be only with us, Women Wage Peace. But for us, you know, it was so clear that Mawa and I are together in all correspondence, all meetings, all documents. We're together. And I remember sitting with one of the officers who accompanied us from USAID.
It was before October 7th. We were sitting in Beit Jala together, finalising all the details of the project. And she told us ‘All other organisations that I work with… I'm used to working with only one partner. And then they update, they search for other partners on the other side, the cross-border partners. And for you, you work together all the time. It's very inspiring.’
So what for us was so natural and goes without saying, for others, it looks very unique. Sometimes, you know, we find it quite funny. And just another story that I just was reminded when M.H talked. We had, after receiving this grant, there was the training, and we had to go through some training about measurement and evaluation.
And it was it was in November three days virtual workshops. And I couldn't attend the workshops eventually because they began the day after we were told about Vivian's death and the day, I mean, we received the announcement at night on Monday night. And Tuesday morning, I couldn't go to this training. Then later M.H told me, and I heard now I heard the recording of the session because I had to catch up, and there was a round of getting to know the organisation. So they called Women Wage Peace, of course, because we are the formal grantees.
And then M.H said Women Wage Peace cannot attend today because Vivian Silver died, and she told about Vivian Silver and about Women Wage Peace and about their grief. For me, you know, it's like a small thing to do, but it encompasses the strong partnership and it's the heartful connection that we share. And this is us. This is us.

Lisa-Marie: Thank you. And I've got one more question about how you work across difference and then we'll move on. How do you go about being cognisant of power differentials between the organisations and individuals? Now you've already answered this to some extent, but I wondered if you've got anything to add.

M.H (Women of the Sun): I think that we aim to create a space for dialogue and mutual respect as we said, and to have a shared vision for a peaceful coexistence. So this is mainly, I think, what we think and… Because we have many differences, but if we thought like with this dialogue and to have this respect, we should move on and we should always focus that we have a shared vision, which is to have peace and to push all our leaders to sit on this negotiation table.

Yael (Women Wage Peace): And just to add that I think that the secret is just being aware of those differences. We know that the Israelis are more privileged. We have more resources. We have the simple thing of freedom of movement. I can go around all the time, and my sisters cannot. And we know the differences. We acknowledge them. When we sit together, they're not there. We're equal partners.
But again, it is not because we disregard them, because if we disregarded the differences, then we wouldn't be able to be equal partners. We acknowledge the differences, we acknowledge the gaps in power, and we acknowledge, as I said, the sorrow and grief of each other and despair, and also fears and also hopes of each other. And this is what helps us and enables us being equal when we work together.

Lisa-Marie: So, I'm reading a book at the moment called Twelve Feminist Lessons of War by Cynthia Enloe, and her first chapter is called ‘Women's Wars are Not Men's Wars’, and she emphasises how differently girls and women experience war.
Now when we began this discussion and exploring having this podcast, M.H, you said it was really important to you that we gave space to you to talk about women's lives in and experiences in Gaza and the West Bank, what it's been like and what it is like now. So would you like to talk to that?

M.H (Women of the Sun): For us, women in Gaza and the West Bank, they face unique challenges because it's not only the occupation and the conflict. They are so organised against domestic abuse and the religious fundamentalism.  So that we advocate for the recognition of this struggle is not to ignore them, that also the woman they are fighting on multiple fronts for a better future. So the impact of the conflict on women is profound. Also women feel the brunt of the hardship.
Yet they are powerful agents of change, but we shouldn’t ignore that there is not a quick change. So what we often organise or address the specific challenges that those women face. And on the other hand, we try to involve them in different programmes that really relate for them.
On the other hand, for the women in the West Bank, I think there you more open because, as you know, in Gaza, they are since 20 years, it's a closed big prison. So mostly what women… really first that is lot more than what we face as a Palestinian woman in the West Bank.
But there are many educated women in Gaza. We believe that for the male domination and the stereotypes in the Palestinian or in the Islamic communities, we face a lot of struggles. For example, for working, for changing the reality, and also to work in the peace building programmes, because it's not that safe for the Palestinian women to be part of this field. Because you will not… you know, you will be afraid, not only from the community, even from the family itself, because many of them are against peace building programmes or against being part of it.
So how we solve it, we can bring the woman to at least be with us and we respect your privacy. For example, we will not show your name. We will not show your face. But at least we believe that if you touch this woman, she will make this change in her family. So step by step, she will raise her voice and even if she couldn't, her kids, her daughters, one day they will raise their voice and said, okay, that's enough.
I want to work in this peace and it's okay for me. So, it's not easy to work with Palestinian women here in our community, but we believe that we should raise our voices. And if you put them to be independent economically, to give her be financial… to be entrepreneurs, they will raise their voices because mostly we depend on the men in all of our lives.
So stop depending on them is the first part, you know, to start working on herself and to improve herself also.

Lisa-Marie: And that certainly reflects the conversations that I've had with Palestinian sisters where they've said they want to be seen as more than simply in relation to the occupation. That they are also having to organise against domestic abuse and religious fundamentalism, for example, what Pragna Patel over here, Southall Black Sisters, calls fighting on many fronts, as you've just said.
Yael, is there anything that you want to add at this point?

Yael (Women Wage Peace): Yes, just to say that the one of our activities in Women Wage Peace is a to elevate the status of women and mostly their involvement in decision-making processes and specifically in decisions relating to peace and security. There are not enough women currently in the Israeli government, in the Israeli parliament, at very crucial and important decision-making tables.
And so we, with other women organisations in Israel, try to tackle this challenge. The current government is really an extreme example of this phenomenon, because over the years, we saw more and more women being involved in being nominated as ministers, as a chief of staff of ministries.
And now for the past year it has been deteriorating and then we fight against this this thing, because we know that, first of all, of course, women need to be involved in… the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg said women need to be wherever decisions are being made. And for us, it's one of our mantras and specifically if there are no women in decision-making forums and tables currently, then when negotiations begin, people think there are no women capable of doing so. You are so used to seeing only men in those around those tables. And we want it to be very natural, very obvious that women are around the negotiation table as well.

Lisa-Marie: We've got a couple more questions. So looking forward now, so war is a capitalist and a patriarchal project, wherever it takes place, and women, as we've spoken about, continue to organise in opposition to and in spite of the conflict imposed upon them. And one thing you mentioned earlier was the need to shift that paradigm from managing the conflict to resolving the conflict. Tell us more.
Yael (Women Wage Peace): As I said, for at least 20 years now, the conflict is being managed and we say we cannot go on like this. This is what Women Wage Peace was saying from the first minute. And you know, in many conversations that I've had over the years, people told me, and not only me, they said, there needs to be something to happen, something very, very tragic, very awful, so peace can begin, the peace process can begin.
And you know the example is of the 1973 war that eventually ignited the peace process with Egypt. And we just recently celebrated its, I think, 45th year. So celebrating is a big word that they marked, its 45th year anniversary.
So, people kept saying, there needs to be something very awful to happen for peace to begin. And we kept saying, why wait for this awful thing to happen? And unfortunately it happened, but we know that if in the aftermath of this war the conflict will continue to be managed, then the next war is just around the corner. The next tragedy is just around the corner, and it will be a harsher. It will be more violent, for both sides.
So, we demand now and not only us, we keep hearing a more and more voices in Israeli society, even in Israeli politics. They say that there is a war, there is fighting, but there needs to be a political horizon. We need the government, the leaders need to think about the day after the war, and we say in Women Wage Peace, you know, the day after the war was yesterday, because we need to think now about the political horizon of how to end this war politically, in a political agreement that will serve as a basis for further negotiations and the long term agreement. But for us, the political horizon is the only way. The political solution is the only way.

Lisa-Marie: I've heard from some that peace is not possible. It's not a position that I hold. For me, we have to not only believe that peace is possible, but to strive towards it and indeed demand it. And on your website, M.H, you have a quote by Camus: ‘Peace is the only battle worth waging.’
And Yael, on yours, there is a quote about cautious optimism. So, do you both feel optimistic still that peace can be achieved?

M.H (Women of the Sun): Yes, for us, my hope is for the future is just a lasting peace. Because I believe that, you know, a resolution is possible through dialogue and understanding and the commitment to justice.
And for us, it's a need, it's not like something… it's a need and it's a right for the Palestinian people to have peace. So there's no choice, we should put the war aside and start working on the peace path. We work a lot on the war, so it's time to stop it and work more and put more effort in peace.

Yael (Women Wage Peace): And I would say, I would add that personally, I'm optimistic by nature and ideology, and I wouldn't be able to do what I do and get out of bed every day if I wasn't optimistic, and I'm sure that it's possible. And when we look around, really, we see so many conflicts that were considered unsolvable and they were resolved.
So it can happen here as well in our region. And just to quote two men, but smart ones. So the first one is Mark Twain, who said that people thought something like this. I'm probably rephrasing, but people told me it was impossible, so I need to do it. And then Nelson Mandela, who said it always seems impossible until it's done. So this is for us.
We know people say that it's impossible. We know that sometimes it feels impossible, but we… as M.H said, it's a necessity and there is no other choice. And when people tell me you're naïve, you're a dreamer, then I reply dreamers are the ones who make history.
You need to dream, you need to imagine, and you need to make everything to pursue your dream and make it true, make it a reality. And this is what we do every day when we get up in the morning.

Lisa-Marie: Thank you very much. The words that you've both been using, resilience, courageous, empathy, respect, and this idea that peace is not just a need, but it is a right. In what ways can those listening to you now, and thank you again for your time, how can they support your organisations and your partnership?
M.H (Women of the Sun): First of all, I want to say for everyone that would like to join our peace movements, you should be persistent and be resilient and believe in the power of change. So that's your voice, it really matters. And these collective efforts can pave the way for a brighter future.
So educate yourself, engage in dialogue and always advocate for peace resolution, even if you are not part of it. And you can support us by spreading the awareness about our organisation. And everyone is welcome in our, you know groups, our dialogue joint programmes also you can support our initiatives like the Mothers’ Call.
And if anyone wants to know more about us, just visit our website and you can contact us and we can get involved in different places.

Yael (Women Wage Peace): Whatever exactly what M.H said and then of course donations are always encouraged and we're very grateful for them, because they don't only provide us with the material needs that enable us to pursue our mission, but also gives us the support and knowledge that we're not alone, people believe in us and we can go on together.
And we also invite the entire world to stop thinking in polarised terms. Because we keep hearing from everywhere in the world, it's either pro-Palestine or pro-Israel, as if it's like an either or, but the meaning of pro-Israel, pro-Palestine is that the other side, the other part, needs to be defeated. And we don't want this and we encourage the world to start thinking about pro-peace from both sides because it's our shared goal.
It's our shared right that we have peace. It's not one side beating the other, that's not what it's all about. So we invite the world and, of course for women, because women need to be involved for a better future. Women and men together for a better future of this region and, and the world.

Lisa-Marie: October 7th, we started to receive emails straight away demanding that we take one of two very polarised sides. And it was important for us to reach out to peace activists and I'm very grateful to you for your time. And I just want to ask, is there anything that we've not covered that you'd like to say, anything that you feel you want to make sure is included in this discussion?

M.H (Women of the Sun): Thank you very much for allowing us to share our perspective and our work. And we really appreciate it. Thank you.

Yael (Women Wage Peace): Yes, it was very inclusive and very thorough. So thank you. Yes, I have nothing to add.

Lisa-Marie: Thank you both very, very much for your time and for the work that you're doing. And like I say, this is the beginning of a conversation, I hope, not just a one-off podcast.

Yael (Women Wage Peace): Sorry. Just one, really one last thing, because if I don't say. When I talked about the need for a political horizon to end this war, of course, for me, it goes without saying, but maybe it needs to be said very explicitly that it must include the release of all hostages, because we still have Israeli hostages, both Jews and Arabs in Gaza. They need to be released as a part of the agreement that will end the war.

Lisa-Marie: M.H, anything you want to say to that?

M.H (Women of the Sun): Yes, sure, as Yael said, that we don't forget the war that happened, and we really want a ceasefire and to rebuild Gaza because there's really no Gaza. And we hope that one day there will be no hostages, no prisoners, the Israeli, also, prisoners. So hopefully that this day will come, and everyone can live peacefully and without wars, without violence.

Lisa-Marie: Thank you both very, very much. So I'd like to quote from the Mothers’ Call.
‘We, Palestinian and Israeli women from all walks of life, are united in the human desire for a future of peace, freedom, equality, rights, security for our children and the next generations.’
I want to thank you both for being a part of what is our 200th podcast. And I hope it's the beginning of a conversation between us and an ongoing friendship.